Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)...one special holiday season...


Christmas in Connecticut (1945), a jewel of a holiday romantic comedy, was released at a  time unlike any other in America...scant months after VE Day, just days before VJ Day - and by December 1945, World War II was finally over and many veterans were home in time for Christmas.
A Time Magazine article of December 24, 1945 observed, “For most Americans, on the first Christmas without war since 1938, these two facts transcended all others: peace…had come back to earth; millions of U.S. fighting men, now a peaceful army of longed-for occupation, were streaming back to their homes…”

A reviewer of the recent book Christmas 1945 observed the contrast between 1945 and the previous Christmas, “In 1944, the Allies thought they had the war nearly won when the last days of turmoil broke out in a wooded, mountainous region of Germany. The Battle of the Bulge was to be the last major conflict in a war winding down…If Christmas 1944 was a frightening reminder that the war was not really over yet, Christmas 1945 was a collective prayer, a nationwide sigh of relief.“

With Christmas in Connecticut, director Peter Godfrey spins an appealing home front fantasy. Barbara Stanwyck stars as New York sophisticate Elizabeth Lane, popular writer for a women's magazine. Lane's forte is home and hearth and her articles wax euphoric about her house in Connecticut, her husband, her baby and the joys of homemaking...with loads of household hints and recipes. But none of it is true. Not married nor a mother, Lane can’t cook, doesn’t clean – and has no interest in any of it! However, almost no one, including her publisher, knows this.

But…very soon a Navy vet (Dennis Morgan) is headed her way thanks to his nurse/fiancée’s letter to Lane’s publisher (Sydney Greenstreet). The sailor, recently rescued after weeks adrift at sea on a raft where he endlessly dreamed of fine food (like this entree), has visions of an Elizabeth Lane-style holiday. With the war still on, Lane's publisher is not about to disappoint a returning hero...so the vet's wish is granted. Lane’s masquerade goes off the rails and she ends up under a romantic spell, ready to give up her "bachelor girl" high life for the regular guy, a war veteran, who's stolen her heart…

The farcical plot, an outstanding cast and a set replete with snowy New England sleigh-ride scenery create a heartwarming and reassuringly merry Christmas movie.

Barbara Stanwyck doesn't miss a beat as a high-flying careerist who discovers she’d like to come down to earth. Reginald Gardiner is smooth as her over-civilized long-time suitor; S.Z. Sakall is endearing as Felix the chef; Sydney Greenstreet is the bombastic publisher. Dennis Morgan is all-American as the Navy man, and sings "I'm Wishing That I May." Joyce Compton also stands out as the chirpy nurse/fiancée.  
  
The popularity of Christmas in Connecticut seems to grow with each passing holiday…but that first year, the film's original Yuletide season, was singular...

Writer Bob Burdick, whose boyhood during WWII included “air raid drills, blackouts, rationing, and simply doing without...” recalled his father’s return from the war and remembered that though money was tight that year and his own gifts under the tree numbered just two, “before the day was over, I considered these gifts the best I’d ever received.” Looking back Burdick added, “no Christmas has been more memorable than the one of 1945.”

8 comments:

  1. I think, Eve, that you are really having an effect on my opinion of Barbara Stanwick. I never really gave her much thought, but now I find myself wanting to seek out her movies every time you write about her.

    My DVD shelves are pretty full, but I guess there's room for a few! Thanks for a great review.

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  2. Very happy to hear you're giving Barbara Stanwyck another chance, Allen. She was so versatile. You name it and she could do it well - comedy, melodrama, drama, noir - and she had such an onscreen presence. You've inspired me to blog about her next month - and it will be timely since three or four of her films are being featured at the annual film noir festival here in January. (Glad you liked this post, too...)

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  3. First let me say Stanwyck is one of my top two classic film actresses, a perfect blend of brains, talent and beauty. Her two Christmas themed films are both treasures and you do justice to entertaining work. Each year around this time I try to watch either this or "Remember the Night" though so far I have not seen either this year. Great supporting cast with Greenstreet and S.Z. "Cuddles" Sokall.

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  4. Hi John - "Remember the Night" will air on Turner Classic Movies this Fri., Christmas Eve, at midnight Eastern/9pm Pacific. I haven't seen it this year yet either, and it's one of my favorites, too.

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  5. Lady Eve,Christmas in Connecticut, is also one of my favorite Christmas films. Barbara Stanwyck absolutely wonderful playing the part of Elizabeth, she is totally convincing as a city girl entirely out of her element on the farm.

    Merry Christmas. :)

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  6. I love the movie, but I think Barbara Stanwyck's transitions leave something to be desired,unlike those of her more polished fellow cast members Greenstreet, Morgan, Sakall, and Gardiner. Look closely--she doesn't quite bring her performance off, and I haven't the faintest idea why. Blame her director. Her transitions are much better in "Double Indemnity", although in that film there is no sexual chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray as there should be. I guess I just don't think she's such a great actress, though I guess she has "presence", whatever that is--forties camera filters in "CinC".
    Merry Christmas to all--from Pennsylvania!

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  7. This has been one of my favorite Christmas films for a few years running. I like the blend of winter fantasy and holiday nostalgia, but placing it in context as the first Christmas following the end of WWII adds a bittersweet tint to the film. I’m sure I was aware of this rationally when watching in the past, but this year it will make me a bit weepy. Thank you for this lovely tribute to the film and to those who remember.

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  8. As I was researching, I noticed that the film's release date, August 1945, coincided exactly with the end of WWII - this gave me pause and I began to consider the film in that context...I decided to connect the film with its time - the war's end, a Christmas of relative peace on earth - in this post.

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